Mental Health

Tips To Overcome Post-Alcohol Anxiety

Hangxiety can often come after a night or day of heavy drinking. It is often accompanied by headaches, nausea, dehydration, guilt, or regret. Learn how to cope with anxiety after drinking alcohol.

By URLife Team
16 Apr 2024

If you’ve woken up feeling anxious after a night of drinking, feeling restless and uneasy, you’re not the only one. If this happens with you, then what you’re experiencing is hangxiety, a hangover that is accompanied with anxiety. This term depicts the common drinking experience mixed with the feeling of anxiety or on edge after a night of drinking. Anxiety can intensify the unpleasant effects of a hangover beyond physical symptoms alone. However, not everyone experiences this phenomenon, commonly known as hangxiety. This is a common post-drinking effect along with some physical symptoms such as headache, dry mouth (dehydration), irritable mood, and nausea. 

A hangover caused by alcohol can lead to or worsen anxiety in various ways. One of the reasons is that alcohol is a depressant. A 2023 research in the paper ‘Alcohol And Its Effects on The Brain’ by the Research Archives of Rising Scholars says that when you consume alcohol frequently, it can lead to neuroplastic changes in your brain. This means that your brain creates new patterns and routines that make it difficult for the brain to recover from alcohol addiction because it cannot easily establish new behavioural patterns. This is especially true for teenagers because their brains have high neural plasticity and are more easily affected by alcohol, which can lead to risky behaviours.


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A Hangover is Different From Hangxiety

Hangovers resulting from excessive drinking can have physical and mental side effects. The physical symptoms include fatigue, headache, increased sensitivity to light and sound, redness in the eyes, muscle aches, and thirst. On the other hand, the mental effects include dizziness, mood disturbances, depression, anxiety, and irritability. Additionally, drinking alcohol can cause an increase in systolic blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, tremors, and sweating because it slows down the mental processes in your brain. 


Related story: Why Does Anxiety Worsen At Night And What Can You Do About It?

How Alcohol Affects The Brain

You must have noticed that after drinking alcohol, you become more relaxed and are easily capable of socialising. This is all because alcohol affects a neurotransmitter in the brain which has a role in sleep and stress. According to a 2022 study in the Cleveland Clinic, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that slows down your brain by blocking specific signals in your central nervous system. Alcohol attaches to the same proteins as GABA, which is a neurotransmitter that helps ease anxiety and racing thoughts. This results in a temporary deficit of GABA, causing people to feel more relaxed and disinhibited when they drink. Additionally, alcohol's sedative effects are due to its impact on the brain chemical glutamate, which is a stimulatory neurotransmitter that boosts energy. 

Drinking increases GABA activity, which diminishes the effects of glutamate and prompts the brain to produce more of the chemical. This can create an oversupply of glutamate, leading to more anxiety when the alcohol leaves the system. For occasional social drinkers, the anxiety will disperse the next day. However, for chronic drinkers, it may take longer for the body to find the balance.


Related story: Steps To Reduce Alcohol Consumption


How Long Does Hangxiety Last?

It is crucial to keep in mind that the anxious thoughts or feelings you may experience after drinking could be due to the chemical changes occurring in your brain. While some individuals may experience more severe post-drinking anxiety than others, those who already struggle with anxiety are more likely to experience hangxiety.

Usually, hangxiety lasts for 24 hours or longer in some cases as per tolerance capacity, number of glasses and even liver health. Also, hangover anxiety tends to affect more the next day of drinking when the body's alcohol level drops to a minimum. And, if you experience severe memory lapses from drinking then it is better to find ways to reduce alcohol consumption. If possible, get help from an expert. 


Related story: How To Manage Anxiety


How to Prevent Hangxiety?

After a hangover, anxiety creeps in the following day and you may want to drink again to suppress those racing thoughts. The relief drink you think you need must be prevented before it converts into a cycle of addiction. Apparently, one of the ways to prevent hangxiety is to avoid patterns which trigger anxiety and quit drinking. However, some may find it extremely difficult to stop drinking at all. In such a scenario, one can follow the 2020 Australian Alcohol Guidelines which suggest men and women should not drink more than 10 drinks in a week and 4 drinks in a day, respectively. Here are some tips to prevent hangover and anxiety after drinking:

  • Instead of alcohol, try non-alcoholic drinks which come in different flavours and are beneficial for health. 
  • Set your limitations. Drink in small glasses and in moderation. 
  • Do not order the next one before finishing the existing one. 
  • Make sure to eat before and during your drinks to slow down the effects of alcohol.
  • Avoid mixing different drinks or substances as it may have unpredictable consequences. 
  • Enjoy your drink sip by sip. It's okay not to keep up with your peers. 
  • Keep drinking water as it will maintain hydration and help flush alcohol out of your system. 
  • It’s okay to say no if you don’t want to indulge anymore or at all. 

Alcohol withdrawal can cause problems for chronic drinkers who suddenly stop drinking. During withdrawal, the brain's excitatory components, glutamate neurotransmitters, become overloaded. This happens because they have been inhibited for a long time due to the methanol present in alcohol.


Related story: 10 Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Ways To Manage Anxiety After Drinking Alcohol

If you wake up feeling anxious and overwhelmed after a night of drinking, it's important to remember that you're not alone in feeling this way. There are a few things you can do to calm yourself down and regain control. 

  • First, take slow deep breaths to help slow your heartbeat and relax. Then, challenge your inner voice and try to think rationally about your actions - it's probably not as bad as you think. 
  • Resist the temptation to indulge in junk food and instead eat something wholesome that will help your body recover faster. 
  • You can also move your body, even if it's just a short walk or taking a plunge into a pool, to get you up and out of the house. 
  • It's also important to learn from your past experiences to avoid feeling like this again. This could mean setting limits or taking a break from drinking altogether. 

These strategies can also help you start to reduce your baseline anxiety if you identify that as an issue for you. If you experience anxiety frequently or are concerned about your relationship with alcohol, talk to your GP about more strategies. Remember, there is help available and you don't have to face this alone.


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Anjaneya 17 Apr 2024


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